For a tradition to be declared authentic it is not enough for it to be found in an authentic compilation. There are other established measures which are applied to every tradition. The most important among these measures is the examination in depth and detail of the reputation and character of the narrators forming the links in the chain of narrators.
There are scholars who have devoted their whole lifetime to such studies and, thanks to their most painstaking and thorough investigations, we are today in a position to examine every link of the chain of narrators in any compilation. Let us turn our attention to the tradition under consideration. This hadith falls into the category of ahad gharib (i.e., a tradition in which there is only one chain of narrators connected to the same single source) because all the five books of hadith derive their chain of narrators from Ikramah as their ultimate source...
It is important to bear in mind that the tradition under discussion is a tradition quoted by a single chain of narrators and has no jurisprudence even if it is considered to be correct by some. In this context, it is essential to learn more about Ikramah and his reputation.
Ikramah was a slave of Ibn Abbas, and also his pupil - a very indifferent pupil, for that matter, and a back-bencher of the first order. He confirms this himself by saying that Ibn Abbas was so infuriated with his lack of interest in his studies and by his truancy that he would bind his hand and foot to compel him to remain present during his sermons.
He was an opponent of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, and was inclined towards the Khawarij in particular at the time when differences between Hazrat Ali and Ibn Abbas began to emerge. Later, during the Abbaside period, (the Abbasides, it should be borne in mind, were extremely antagonistic to all those who were in any way allied to Hazrat Ali’s progeny because of political apprehensions), Ikramah acquired great renown and respect as a versatile scholar, obviously because of his hostility towards Hazrat Ali and links with the Khawarij.
Dhahbi states that because lkramah was a Kharijite, his traditions were unreliable and dubious. An expert on the Punishment for Apostasy, Imam Ali bin Al-Medaini, is of the same opinion. Yahya bin Bekir used to say that the Kharijites of Egypt, Algiers and Morocco were strongly allied to Ikramah.
It has generally been observed that the traditions of capital Punishment for Apostasy emanate mainly from incidents in Basra, Kula and Yemen. The people of the Hijaz (Mecca and Medina) were totally unfamiliar with them. One cannot shut one’s eyes to the fact that the tradition from Ikramah under discussion is known as an Iraqi tradition. Let us recall the famous Meccan Imam, Taus bin Kaisan, who used to say that Iraqi traditions were generally doubtful.
That is not all. A great scholar, Yahya bin Saeed Al-Ansari, has strongly censured Ikramah for his unreliability in general and has gone to the extent of calling him a kadhab, that is to say an extreme liar of the first water.
Abdullah bin Al-Harith quotes a very interesting incident which he witnessed himself when he visited Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas. He was deeply shocked and dismayed to find Ikramah bound to a post outside the door of Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas. He expresseed his shock at this cruelty by asking Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas if he had no fear of God in him. What he obviously meant was that Ikramah, with all his renown of piety and so on, did not deserve such abase and cruel treatment at the hands of his late master’s own son. In response to this, Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas justified his act by pointing out that Ikramah had the audacity to attribute false things to his late father, Ibn Abbas. What better judge of the character of Ikramah could there be than Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas? No wonder, therefore, that Imam Malik bin Anas (95–179 AH), the pioneer compiler of hadith and an Imam of jurisprudence held in the highest repute throughout the Muslim world, held that the traditions narrated by Ikramah were unreliable.
The following scholars of great repute have declared that Ikramah had a strong disposition towards exaggeration: Imam Yayha bin Saeed Al Ansari, Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas and Ara bin Abi Rabae.
This, then, is the man who we are dealing with and on whose sole authority the matter of the lives of all those people who change their faith is left hanging till the end of time.
Whenever the name of Ibn Abbas appears at the head of a chain of narrators, the vast majority of Muslim scholars is overawed. They forget the fact that because of his name and reputation concocters of false traditions tended to trace their fabricated chain of narrators back to him. Therefore, all traditions beginning with the name of Ibn Abbas must be properly judged and examined.
Moreover, even if Ibn Abbas is honestly reported by a narrator, the possibility of human error on Ikramah’s part regarding what Ibn Abbas might have said cannot be ruled out. The following would be a good illustration of the case in point:
Ibn Abbas says that Umar used to say that the Holy Prophetsa said that crying over the dead brought chastisement to the dead. Ibn Abbas further said that after Umar died, he related this tradition to Ayesha who said, ‘God forgive Umar!’ By God, the Holy Prophetsa said nothing of the kind. He only said that if the descendants of a disbeliever cried over his dead body, their action tended to augment his punishment, and by way of argument, Ayesha also said, ‘Sufficient for us is the saying of the Quran: “Verily no soul can bear the burden of another.”
If a man of Hazrat Umar’s stature and integrity can misunderstand the Holy Prophetsa, however rarely it might have happened, how much more is there danger of ordinary narrators misunderstanding the reports of Ibn Abbas?
With such wide possibilities for the miscarriage of the message of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa, how can a sane person rely entirely on the evidence of this hadith and draw conclusions of far-reaching import regarding matters of life and death and fundamental human rights?
It is likely that Ikramah concocted this tradition, attributing it to Ibn Abbas, as it was his wont to do, according to Ali bin Ibn Abbas.
When we examine the subject matter of the tradition under consideration, we find the contents to be erroneous in several ways.
A person of Hazrat Ali’s stature is presumed to be unaware of the fact that Islam categorically prohibits a person to be punished by fire. The words ‘slay whosoever changes his faith’ are so general that they can be interpreted in many ways. They can apply to men, women and children, whereas according to Imam Abu Hanifa and some other schools of jurisprudence, an apostate woman can never be slain.
The Arabic word deen (religion) used in this tradition is a general word meaning any religion, not Islam specifically. Even the faith of idolaters is referred to as deen. (Quran 109:7) In the light of the general nature of the language used, how can one restrict the application of this tradition to a Muslim who renounces his faith? In strict legal terms, according to this tradition anyone who changes his religion, whatever that religion is, would have to be put to death. It would mean slaying the Jew who became a Christian, slaying the Christian who became a Muslim, and slaying the pagan who adopted any new faith. ‘Whosoever’ also transcends the geographical boundaries of Muslim states, implying that anywhere in the world, anyone who changes his faith - be he an aborigine of Australia, a pygmy of Africa or an Indian of South America - must be slain forthwith the moment he renounces his previous faith and accepts another one.
Islam lays a great deal of emphasis on proselytizing, so that it is binding upon every Muslim to become a preacher in the path of Allah. How ironical it is therefore that many renowned Muslim scholars today negate the very spirit of Islamic jihad by audaciously sticking to the narrow-minded view that Islam dictates that whosoever changes his faith, meaning in this context Islam, must be put to death forthwith. What about those of other faiths? Islam declares it to be an obligation upon Muslims to stand committed to the noble goal of constantly endeavoring to change the faith of all non-Muslims around them by peaceful means. This task is so important and demanding that every Muslim is instructed to stick to the endeavor till his last breath
The Holy Quran states: "Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation. and reason with them on the basis of that which is best. Thy Lord knows best those who have strayed away from His way; and He knows best those who are rightly guided." (16.126)
The advocates of the bigoted inhumane doctrine of death upon apostasy never visualise its effect on international and inter religious human relationships. Why can they not see that according to their view of Islam, adherents of all religions have a fundamental right to change their faith but not so the Muslims, and that Islam has the prerogative of converting others but all adherents of different faiths are deprived of any right to convert Muslims to their faith? What a sorry picture of Islamic justice this presents!
To conclude, apostasy is the clear repudiation of a faith by a person who formerly held it. Doctrinal differences, however grave, cannot be deemed to be apostasy. The Punishment for Apostasy lies in the hand of God Almighty, against whom the offence has been committed. Apostasy which is not aggravated by some other crime is not punishable in this world. This is the teaching of God. This was the teaching of the Holy Prophetsa. This is the view confirmed by Hanafi jurists, Fateh al-Kadeer Chalpi, Hafiz ibn Qayyim, Ibrahim Nakhai, Sufyan Thauri and many others.
- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Murder in the Name of Allah